Finding a big audience for a unique solution

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When I’m not interviewing entrepreneurs, I run. I can run endlessly. But one of the problems that I have as a runner is nutrition. If I’m in the middle of the run, I have to stop and find some food because I don’t like the gel packs other marathoners use.

It’s such a hassle and such an interruption to my run. Well, joining me is an entrepreneur who found a way around it. Her name is Shoba Murali and she is the founder of Ucan,  a nutritional products company. I want to find out how she found a solution to an extremely unique problem for one person and patented a broader application that helps a ton of people, including me.

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Shoba Murali

Shoba Murali

Ucanco

Shoba Murali is the founder of Ucan, a nutritional products company.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And by the way, when I’m not interviewing entrepreneurs, I run I’m on endlessly. I love San Francisco now, because if you have people here, which means running through the streets, been wonderful.

Here’s one of the problems that I have as a runner. It’s nutrition. It’s nutrition to the point where, when I ran in Mongolia, I had to in the middle of the run, find some food because it was a marathon that I was doing on my own. I had no food. I ran into some local store, got a whole loaf of bread, just so I could have a little bit of bread to eat.

And I remember it was actually a pretty cool little market. There was, there was a guy who was like cutting raw meat on the floor. It was on like real. But I had to stop my marathon for that. There are these gels that you’re supposed to get, but then you have to carry like 20 of them with you because every mile or so you have to take them.

It’s, it’s just such a hassle and such a headache and is such an interruption on my run. Well, joining me as an entrepreneur who found a way around it. And what’s interesting to me is what led her to the solution to my problem. Her name is Shoba Murali. She is the founder of Yukon. It’s a nutritional products company and because of a disease, a rare disease that her co-founder’s son had.

She was able to solve her co-founder or help her co-founder’s son through disease, and then help runners like me with the same solution that she found for him. We’re going to get into the details of how it did, how she did it and how she built up this company. And we, the interesting thing for me is. show, but you didn’t say here’s one person rare issue.

It doesn’t matter, but you solved or you dealt with that problem, which then said, wait, there are other people who could benefit from that solution, that creative process to come up with a company with a product is the thing that makes me so interested in you. Can your company, right? I should say this interview, we find out about how you can is doing how it got started, how it grew.

Is possible. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first will host your website, right? It’s called host Gator. And the second, if you’re paying a team of people, employees, contractors, both, you need to know about rippling.com/mixergy. I’ll talk about both those later, but first Shoba good to have you here.

Shoba: Well, thank you for having me, Andrew,

Andrew: What’s the disease that

the boy had.

Shoba: the condition that, uh, my co-founder Sean has, um, is called glycogen storage disease. it’s a very, very rare condition. It manifests itself right at birth. children born with this condition, are missing. A particular gene that converts our glycogen stores to glucose, almost all of us who eat.

Um, you know, when we eat a meal, our excess blood sugar is shunted into the liver as glycogen and unbeknownst to us when we are talking like this and our podcasts, that glycogen is converting to glucose and it’s fueling our brain and every, every other cell and every cell in the body, uh, with this child, he was born with a condition where he’s unable to convert.

Those glycogen stores to glucose, which really means that if this is not treated in any manner, if he doesn’t have a way of getting glucose into his blood, his entire body can shut down. He can go into, uh, epileptic, shock and coma. So children born with this condition have to be fed every two hours, day and night because whatever breaks down from the digestive system and gives glucose into the blood is what keeps them going.

And in 1970s, uh, Duke researcher had found that feeding these children cornstarch, uh, through the gut, then remember these are in, you know, right at infants, right as infants, right. As when, when they are born, they are fed this con starch every two hours. So if you are a parent of a child, uh, you can imagine what a night that is with parents taking tons every two hours, getting up and feeding that child.

Andrew: Every two hours all day, every day, they’re getting up and feeding their child.

Shoba: They are night. this regimen this regimen of feeding every two hours had to be kept up day and night. If you miss a feeding, even by a little bit, that child can have a loss of glucose, which means the body shuts down the brain shuts down and it is life-threatening.

Andrew: Let me see if I understand this right. You created a formula. You created food that allows him to slowly get what over, over a longer period of time than the two hours it’s slowly get.

Shoba: So we, we, we created a product, a nutrition product that allows them to break down and digest it very slowly and get. Glucose, which is really energy into the blood over a long period of time. That two hour feeding became eight hour

Andrew: That’s the thing. So now the glucose was released over a longer period of time. And that’s what allows him to not have to have the two hour feeding and also allows me if I understand this right to not have every 45 minutes or hour another one of those gel packs away that they tell you to do when I’m in a marathon.

Shoba: That’s exactly right. So when you, when you, as an athlete have something we just healthier than oatmeal and that’s what we were giving him. And that was allowing him to sustain for eight hours. You, as an athlete for your endurance activity, you’re looking for an energy source, and this is an energy source that will sustain you in a steady manner for a long period of time.

Andrew: I told you that the mistake that I made with Yukon was I bought, I bought everything that you had because I wanted to try it. And then I got the granola and my mistake was, I just kept eating the granola cause it tasted good and I wanted to fill up. And then I took, I did what I always do, which is I took a Ziploc bags of some extra and I put it in my running pants pocket.

And the mistake that I made was assuming it was like regular food. I think I overdid it before the run. And then I added onto it in the run expecting something just doesn’t feel right. Let’s eat even more because it’s not meant to be like that. It’s meant to have a smaller portion, let the glucose unleash over a longer period of time.

Right.

Shoba: That’s exactly right. And with our energy mix. Of other ingredients that are combined with it. So what might have upset, you know, cause that kind of overload for your stomach is a little unclear for me, but it could very well have been all of the seeds and the nuts and the fats that go in into that energy makes.

So it’s not really meant to be, the, the, the form format that we would recommend for a runner for a long period of time.

Andrew: Let’s get into how you got here, but first what’s the revenue today. What do you feel comfortable telling me about where you are?

Shoba: Well, as a private company, we keep that kind of confidential. But let me tell you the weird. If we were a $50 million business, I would be putting the number out there.

Andrew: So it’s not yet 50 million, is it, is it over 10? I’m not looking to get these specific number if you’re uncomfortable with it, but I want to get a, a sense of how big the business is.

Shoba: you, you would, you know, I would say put her between a 10 and a 15 million,

Andrew: Got it. Okay. That gives me a sense of where it is all bootstrapped.

Shoba: Uh, more recently, except for, I’d say 2018, we went for a professional round of

financing prior to that, it was all friends and family.

Andrew: all right. Before you were doing this, you were working on acorn what’s acorn.

Shoba: Today acorn would be called a big data company. Uh, acorn was really a database marketing company, which, um, did a lot of, lot of analytics for, um, based on data for customers. So they, so you, you could cross sale and up-sale and really understand segmentation better. Um, the ultimate goal was one-on-one market.

Andrew: You sold the business.

Shoba: Oh, we merged with another entity and went IPO.

Andrew: Do you remember the day that you went public?

Shoba: March, 2001

Andrew: Wow. March, 2001. That’s after the.com bubble burst, right.

Shoba: just around the time of the bot.com. Bubba is just before the.com bubble

Andrew: And so how did, how did it do at the IPO and then afterwards,

Shoba: The IPO, but you know, I like a lot of.com uh, businesses around that time. I mean, it didn’t have a full trajectory that could have had. And I, as an entrepreneur who had sold my business, um, really had a, uh, required commitment to stay on for one year. And after that, I really moved on to other things. Once an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur,

Andrew: You, um, you were in New York, was it at nine, 11 that’s months after the IPO? Right.

Shoba: That’s exactly right. So the day, my last day, um, well, I, I, I left acorn after it had been sold and it had gone IPO and, uh, nine 11 was, um, the year that nine 11 happened, nine 11 happens to be my birthday. And I was on a golf course with my husband because I just sold my business. And it was the first time in a very, very long time that I had time to take off.

Andrew: And then he took off also. Otherwise he would have been he’s a wall street guy. He would have been in the office would have been impacted by the plane, hitting the two planes, hitting the world trade center.

Shoba: Uh, yes, that he was very, you know, he’d really, to this day. I’m so, so grateful for, uh, for that, that actually was with me and not at the world trade center. Um,

Andrew: trade center that day,

Shoba: Uh, he w he was going to be in seven world trade center, which is where his offices were. And, um, he w he worked for Lehman brothers at that time as a managing director.

He had taken the day off because it was my birthday and we were on the golf course together. And, uh, when we got back after the, at the ninth hole, when we were, when we stopped at the clubhouse and we checked our phones, we had about 60 voicemail messages or everybody, uh, calling us out of concern for him.

Andrew: And that building was destroyed. I’m looking it up on Wikipedia was destroyed September 11 attacks. Right? Wow.

Shoba: it was not, yeah, it was left on, uh, on occupy both.

Andrew: Told our producer nine 11 impacted you tremendously. How.

Shoba: Well, um, I live in a town, which is a commuter town to the city, right? So one, it impacted me because it, it really shook me to the core that my husband could have been there that day. Um, too, we live in a commuter town, so we know what it was when I went to pick up my kids from school, the number of kids who were really held back in school.

Because the school administration had no idea if the parents were going to come back and when they were going to come back from the city. So a lot of those things, both in our community and amongst our friends, it really hit hard. Um, so it, it really became one off now. I mean, I had taken, uh, I had taken time off.

I sold my business. I came to the realization that if I really needed to get involved with anything else, it had to have meaning in life. It had to have a purpose.

Andrew: And didn’t you feel that before what you were doing had a purpose? What do you mean? What’s the difference?

Shoba: The difference is, you know, listen, I’m, um, I’m a technology entrepreneur. I’ve been a techno, I’ve been an engineer, I’m an engineer I’ve been in technology companies, technology companies impact lives. I’m not saying they don’t, but they do so in, in somewhat of, in direct ways. So your personal fulfillment is in seeing lives change.

Uh, by your immediate actions. I, I I’d say like, if you think of our frontline heroes today, that’s what they’re doing. Right. They’re doing things where they can see an immediate impact in their lives. Um, immediate, immediate impact on life. So I wanted to get involved with something that didn’t necessarily have, uh, a technology solution to it, or a big return on investment to it, but had a purpose behind it.

Andrew: you can see somebody’s life clearly getting better because of it, not a business being more efficient, but a person’s life being improved.

Shoba: Yeah, Sandra, you said it better than I did.

Andrew: I get it. All right. And so then a few years later, Peter Kaufman told you about someone who he met at a synagogue who was Peter Kaufman.

Shoba: The Coffman is my co-founder. He’s my colleague. He’s been a fellow technology entrepreneur. We’ve done business together prior to you can. Um, so we’ve been friends for a very long time.

Andrew: And so he told you about a family that had in the, in the synagogue, in the community that had this condition that we talked about a moment ago, you, you heard about this two hour feeding situation. Is that when you said, okay, I think this is my moment, or will you just slowly kind of helping out and then it eventually became a thing.

Shoba: Helping out. Uh, he, uh, we both, he invited me to a symposium, um, which was conducted by the child’s father and another very. Successful biotech and sponsor preneur. Dr. Steve’s Quinto. Uh, the child’s father is David Feldman. David Fellman, Dr. Steve splinter, uh, Dr. Steve splinter, Peter Kaufman, and I, we had all attended that symposium where people were discussing, uh, physicians.

Uh, researchers were all discussing this condition. That Jonah had. And along the way, we came to the realization that this was not a straightforward cure. It required gene therapy, STEM cell therapy, a bunch of other things that were very, very new, um, new technologies for newborn children. Um, and so we shifted our focus to, is there a better way to manage this condition?

You know, can we take the two hour feeding and extend it?

Andrew: Okay. Why didn’t you say I’m here, I’m listening. Maybe I could donate something. Why was this something that you cared enough about to follow through and look at STEM cell research and then wonder about nutrition or something else?

Shoba: Well that’s, um, um, the condition of glucose management to me, um, struck a chord part because my father had been diabetic and I lost my father to type two diabetes. I, at that time had a brother-in-law who, um, you know what I mean? I’m Indian by background and, uh, diabetes is. The number one or number two largest, uh, you know, issue around the world is in India, India, and China are my number one or number two with respect to that condition.

And, uh, my brother-in-law had late stage renal failure. So I really figured that if there’s a way to manage blood glucose, it would help not only Jonah, but it would help a lot of diabetic individuals.

Andrew: Okay. So that’s the thing that I was getting at the bigger vision in the smaller single problem. That’s the thing that’s sometimes hard to do to not say, well, there aren’t a lot of people who have this to not say, well, Maybe I can help this one person, but he’s in a community that can help him already.

Why don’t I find someone who’s worse off or a bigger group of people that I can help, but to instead say in this one specific dramatic problem, we could find a solution for other people who aren’t as dramatically impacted. That’s the big leap. I think that’s really impressive. Yeah.

Shoba: Yes. And, and, and to believe in the possibility of that, right? I mean, when you’re going in, you don’t really know that you’ll find that you don’t really know you have a solution, but just to believe in the possibility that pursuing this might lead you to that. That was what was very intriguing for me.

Andrew: Okay, so Shelby, you said, let’s keep looking you, you said if it’s not going to be STEM cell and other solutions that are way too complicated and out of reach, let’s see what else there is. What else did you look for before you hit on the right answer?

Shoba: Well, we started looking at it, carbohydrates of all kinds, because carbohydrates break down to give you a glucose. And remember Jonah was having construct, which is really another form of carb. So, um, and I, I I’d give a lot of credit to my entire team there. Dr. Squanto, uh, David Feldman and the others. They started calling up carbohydrate researchers around the world, the world health organization, trying to see if there was any other carbohydrate out there that did better than what Jonah was having.

And, uh, so he was tested with a lot of things. He was tested with various forms of carbs, um, uh, resistant starches, pea proteins, and all, and in a variety of these things. And, uh, Dr. Spinto being, um, a brilliant scientist started Googling and looking at patent applications. And we finally. Hit on a patent application that was filed in, um, in Scotland and the patent application talked about, uh, a cooking method.

You know, when you cook pasta, you can over cook it or under cook it. So by applying heat, moisture, moisture, and pressure, this, uh, carbohydrate researcher had, who had been. Independently working on the very same solution we were seeking. He was trying to find a solution for this condition by trying variety of carbohydrates in his university lab and had cracked a method of, uh, cooking, uh, a particular kind of non GMO corn in a manner that would give.

A very, very slow breakdown of glucose. So that patent application caught our attention. And that’s really where everything.

Andrew: Did you, did they get the patent or

Shoba: The patent has now been issued worldwide.

Andrew: Were

Shoba: The U S Europe.

Andrew: were you then reaching out to them and saying, can we use your license, your patent by your patent?

Shoba: That’s exactly right. When we reached out to this research, it was patent applied. It wasn’t yet patented and it was patent. Now we reached out to him and we said, listen, your profile, your patent application is very intriguing. We’d love to get the rights for this. And we’d like to really look at, um, you know, uh, uh, working with this, uh, the, the methodology really was being done in very well.

Small batches in a Deuteron bottle, in a university setting about for cooking starch for over 48 hours. So, um, we told them we wanted the rights to it and he said, well, sorry, the rights for black engine storage disease, which is a condition the Jonah has, is taken. So we said, well, um, What about the rights for consumer nutrition?

Because Joanna today was taking , which is a consumer nutrition product. And we said, what about the rights to consume on nutrition? And he says, well, uh, I can give that to you. Um, and for us that’s all it was, was really, uh, needs to address a particular child’s problem, not the entire population of children with that condition.

And to see if it worked.

Andrew: And then it worked right.

Shoba: Yes, it did.

Andrew: how much work was it to get it to work for him? Was it you just making it at home and, um, and then hitting on the right approach.

Shoba: Well, um, it, it was quite involved because taking laboratory technologies and scaling them is nontrivial. Um, you know, we tried approaching some of the major starch companies and giving them the patent application and getting them to scale it. Um, They said, if you apply moisture, heat and pressure to a starting material, that’s an powder form.

You’ll end up with a big ball of dough. And we paid for these pilots. They want successful. And, um, ultimately we took the guidance of, um, of another chemical engineer who had, um, done tremendous work scaling laboratory technologies for. Pharmaceutical companies and we created our own equipment to scale this.

So that was a multi-year process. The ability to find a way of commercially scaling it, because you don’t want to have Jonas stock on a regimen where you’re not able to manufacture enough of this

Andrew: Oh, so before you even made it available to him, you wanted to make sure you could make it available.

Shoba: in sizeable quantities. Let’s say 25 kilograms, 75 kilograms,

Andrew: Yeah. Did you test it on him to see if it worked? If he could go from two hours to three hours?

Shoba: Uh, no, we, we, our first set of starts that we obtained to even test. It was, um, about, we paid $3,000 for two kilograms of starch. So we had to at least be able to produce 75 kilograms at a time to say, well, okay, it’s 20 times lab. You can, more than 20 times lab means you can commercially scale.

Andrew: How much money do you invest until you got it going until you were able to sell it,

Shoba: Oh, I’d say getting our patent licenses and applying for various engineering, uh, improvements to be able to incrementally scale was a good couple of million dollars.

Andrew: Oh, wow. And that’s self-funding or yeah, that was self-funded. Then

Shoba: everything was self-funding.

Andrew: because you saw market. What was the market that you saw? They could justify spending a couple million dollars.

Shoba: Well, the market potential was that if you cracked this for Jonah, you could really crack it for everyday individuals. So looking for, um, steady, steady in your traditional steady energy without the ill effects of sugars. So that’s really the market potential, which truly is

Andrew: of sugar. What’s the effect that, so when you’re thinking even, and this is where I, when I was first thinking about Yukon, I said, not necessarily, I don’t know that I immediately jumped to running. I think that at the time I was having a problem where I was working from home, which I freaking hate partially because there’s just food all the time around.

And so I was constantly feeding my need for energy. By by eating. And I said, if I could just eat something that gives me more energy, that’s spread out throughout the day. That’s a big win. That’s what you were thinking of a worker who says, I don’t want to have this big burst of energy, get a lot done and then feel saggy afterwards, but have slow, slow, um, uh,

Shoba: Let’s call it a healthier form offender.

Andrew: over a longer period of time.

But if you were thinking of, can we sell this to the person at home? Can we sell it to the person in the office? Can this be a healthy snack for people,

Shoba: Well, we, like I said, in my personal frame, I had diabetes as my impetus. Right. Because I knew that glucose management is a big diabetic

Andrew: for anyone who has diabetes to have this? Or were you thinking of, for anyone who wants to avoid it?

Shoba: So it’s both it’s to prevent the onset of diabetes, because what does, what causes diabetes, continuous, excursions and sugar is what caused diabetes, right? I mean, eating a lot of processed foods, those continuous excursions and your sugar ups up and down your spikes and your crashes. Cause it so diabetic people in particular need products that are not.

Um, not really spiking spiking their blood sugar, but, um, those that want to avoid diabetes, especially those are pre-diabetic. And those one avoid becoming diabetic have to be very, very conscious about their sugar intake, but they need a good energy source. And that’s what you can provide for them. So put on my personal reference, that was my personal reference, but really our starting point became one of athletes because athletes are good early adopters.

They kind of really know their bodies very well. So, um, we knew that, uh, an opportunity for us would be to see if sustained energy could really help her marathon. I could help her, uh, a hockey player could help any athlete.

Andrew: And when I went to your site in the internet archive, it’s always athletes. First I see on a version of the site from a couple of, well, I guess this is a year ago that I, that I’m seeing. Two people who are now stretching at the end of some kind of workout. We don’t know what the workout is, but they just finished a workout.

And then somewhere in the, in the photo in the area is, as you can. So you always knew before you got started, it was going to be athletes. I wonder how you reached your first athlete till you got your first customers, but you know, before we get into that, let me just tell you quickly about rippling my sponsor.

Do you mind,

Shoba: No, please go ahead.

Andrew: but how many employees do you have at your company?

Shoba: Uh, 15 right now.

Andrew: Alright. Do you feel comfortable telling me what, what software used to pay the people? Is it ADP it’s okay. If you, if you mentioned a competitor.

Shoba: Uh, it’s, it’s not ADP it’s, um, Quicken now.

Andrew: Quicken. I didn’t even realize we were using Quicken until recently. My frustration was the 10 90 nines. At the end of every year, I have to sit and start or at the beginning of the following year, I have to sit and go through the 10 90 nines for contractors. It’s just such a hassle and QuickBooks, and then they can’t see how much I paid them very easily.

I can’t see how much I paid anyone very easily. I need my bookkeepers and I need time for myself to figure it out. That’s what sent me searching for a solution. The reason I settled on on rippling is rippling makes it all easy. Everything that you do to onboard people and make sure that they see how much they get paid and to quickly pay them is all quickly done in a simple dashboard, very little interface issues.

And I signed up for rippling to pay my people. It’s fricking wonderful. Can I say that around you? I feel like I should be a little more reverential in the way I’m talking to you. It’s freaking amazing. And the beauty is I now get to go in when I need to pay people and just hit a button and move on with my life.

They have their whole profile. They get to see how much I paid them over time. They get to see when they’re due next. If we were dealing with, uh, vacation time and so on. And I don’t want to, I don’t care about that, but if we were, they get to go and manage it directly in the app, you could give them everything that they need.

Um, to see how much they’ve gotten paid to, uh, to make it easier for you to pay. And for me, because I’ve got a lot of contractors all over the country, all over the world, it makes it even easier. I used to have to deal with PayPal for paying international contractors. And I hate that it feels so unprofessional to PayPal someone, but there was no other way to do it.

Rippling solves that. Alright, I’m going to tell you and everyone else, when you’re looking for an alternative, I’m not going to tell you to sign up to rippling. I know they’re paying me to tell you to sign up. I’m not going to tell you to go sign up. I’m going to tell you, go and do a demo with them and consider them the next time you’re thinking about switching away from quick Quicken or QuickBooks for you was for me.

If someone out there is using someone else, ADP, all these services are fine. If you want great. I can’t talk. I can’t tell you why. It’s great. You have to see it for yourself to see why it’s really amazing. And they’ll do a free demo for you or anyone on your team. Shoba all you have to do is go to rippling.com/mixergy.

It’s going to cost you less than the current service you’re using. It’s going to be much better. And the, and the way to see it is to actually see it, challenge them, ask them questions. That’s what I did. I wanted to make sure I was with what the right company, rippling.com/mixergy. It really is. All right.

And by the way, if anyone thinks it’s anything short of excellent. I want to know about it. I’m not going to run ads for sponsors who don’t, why don’t love Andrew at Mixergy is my email address. I want to know every little thing. If you have a problem, I want to know about it. All right. Let’s talk about the first customers.

How did you get the first customer? Shoba if you can.

Shoba: Uh, most of our customers, our early customers came through, um, influences, you know, we really reached out, we were all about validation. Um, because for us, our reason for being as I’ve shared was a child. Since we solved the child’s problem, it wasn’t our desire to really. Go market this commercially, unless there was some validation in terms of how this product worked.

So we seeded our, and remember it was precious to, uh, because we were manufacturing this in small quantities. So we see that at the hands of, um, um, Uh, researchers and dieticians, uh, Dr. Jeff Wallach, who’s a chief scientific officer of the company. Now he’s, I’m a big believer in, um, ketogenic diets. In fact, uh, really, it’s not a big proponent of carbohydrates.

He, uh, happened to. Uh, review all of the patent applications with the science. And he said, if there was a car by would back, this is it a doc, Dr. Jeff Wallick was a kinesiology professor at university of Connecticut. So we had him understand and explain the benefits of the products to us. Uh, we reached out to an Olympic dietitian, um, Bob Siva, coach Bob Sebar.

He was training the triathlon team for Beijing and he was looking, um, uh, to evaluate on nutritions. Nutrition products. So we send product over to him and, um, he in turn then reached out to fellow dietitians. One of who happened to be a dietician for a marathoner, um, uh, medical Leschi. And, uh, we had no idea that, uh, um, uh, about marathoners at that point, because we didn’t really, we weren’t runners ourselves.

I’d done a couple of half marathons, but I wasn’t a very, uh, avid follower of the sport. And we also see that the product product were several, um, coaches who were, um, uh, coaches for, um, NCAA, uh, ice hockey.

Andrew: Was that you, how did you do that? You reached out to you just cold, emailed them and said, we’ve got this product. It’s called superstar trite. We’ve got this ingredient. It’s uh, we’ve got a superstar. Is that the, is that an ingredient or is that what you call the right? So we’ve got superstar chairs, how it works.

Can we send you some for your athletes to try it and see if it improves their performance? That’s the pitch. I imagine.

Shoba: It is, but, but it wasn’t really, uh, so removed as I might say, except for Bobsy Bahar, who really, we truly just Googled. And Bob was just leaving, uh, university of Florida, if you will, the home of Gatorade and moving on to Colorado to take on this dietician position for. The Olympic, uh, Olympic team. So Bob was a cold call.

Dr. Jeff Wallach was a cold call because he was back in our backyard and university Connecticut, but the coaches for the ice hockey team, um, David Fellman, the child’s father is an avid hockey, um, uh, fan and a player. And so he knew some of the coaches in the ice hockey field. So we reached out to them, Connecticut based, and then they in turn, put us onto other NCAA coaches.

Andrew: And then was this, um, was, was it about them getting it to their athletes so you can then talk about it or was it to get them to get them to talk about it? How do you, how do you go beyond a handful of sales to their, to these coaches?

Shoba: Coaches. It was not so much a sales, as I said, validation, getting the data, how are these athletes feeling? What are, you know, what is the regimen of how they are using, what is it doing to their body? So for the entire season we collected all of that data. And that data was, was promising enough and it was compelling enough that we then went on.

We were all about signs. So we went to, went on to do a double-blinded clinical trial and we got results from that. And so once we had all of that, we, and when we, there was one more big pivotal moment, two big pivotal moments, one pivotal moment was, uh, Medica philosophy winning the New York city marathon in 2009.

And when we found.

Andrew: can

Shoba: You’re on, you can, when we need and, and read really, um, and we didn’t even have a name for our product at that time, we really were providing SuperStarch. We really did not have a brand. You can. So one pivotal pivotal moment of validation was winning the New York city marathon. And the fact that he had been training for the marathon using Yukon as, um, uh, as a product for his energy and the other pivotal moment for us.

Was getting the, uh, the data from all of these ice hockey teams and seeing what a wonderful season they had and coaches telling us how different, uh, the, the, the players felt. And the third, and I, I cannot name this because we don’t have the marketing rights to, this was a pro football team where the dietician for the pro football team really gave the product to, um, defensive linesman on the team.

Um, and, and players who were

Andrew: I know the team. Am I, am I not supposed to mention the team?

Shoba: Please don’t because I believe you really get into trouble.

Andrew: So how does it help you if they’re using it, they’re benefiting from it, but you can’t even tell people about it because you’re not like a Gatorade or under armor and don’t have the right to talk about it. How does it even help you?

Shoba: Well, um, it’s frustrating at times, but it does help us because dieticians and coaches are a closed network, so we don’t have to be amplifying that they, they do it for us. Right. They’re there.

Andrew: this. They know that this sports team is doing it.

Shoba: Yes. It’s like a big, because people move dieticians, move from one team to the other players, move from one team to the other and players who are loyal to the product who all, who, who found great benefit from the product asks for it.

When they move on to another team.

Andrew: So you’re doing over $10 million in sales from this type of word of mouth.

Shoba: We started the word of mouth. And then we went around building the Brown. We started in building the brand, getting a name for the brand and formulating our products in different formats from powders and bars going, um, you know, attending Meredith. Um, so we started very strongly in running, sponsoring ambassadors in the field, um, sponsoring races.

We were the nutrition for the San Francisco marathon, the nutrition for the Dallas marathon. Um, well looking closely

Andrew: out your product at the

Shoba: on yes, at the marathon prior to the marathon on the course, we have vibration product on the course.

Andrew: and as, as a, as a runner myself, one of the things that I know is runners will see what’s available on the course, and then they’ll want to train with that, or they’ll be exposed to it for the first time. And they’ll want to keep it up. I only cared about pita chips because they gave it away at the New York city marathon, I think, or some, one of those runs in New York.

I liked it. I had a connection to it because that’s when I achieved a big run. And so I kept buying it. That’s what we’re talking about. They’re being trained to use it. And then they also have the affection of the fact that they used it on a race. And so all the positive feelings from the race are connected to the, to the brand.

Now that’s what you’ve gone for.

Shoba: That’s exactly right. And, and I think your key word is training, right? So we know if it’s race day it’s too late. You want to catch the Renault when they’re training. So our affiliations with our running clubs are running. Specialty retailers running coaches. They’re all part of the ecosystem.

Andrew: about giving it to them before, so that they’re training with it, getting used to it. And then if they want, they could buy it themselves afterwards.

Shoba: That’s exactly right. And, and a lot of our ambassadors are, uh, great supporters of the product they’re out there for the early morning runs setting up sampling tables, you know, talking to them, talking to the runners about different ways of fueling. Uh, and the same is true. Whether you’re a triathlete, you know, whether you’re a triathlete, an athlete or a runner, um, the product has broad implications.

Andrew: I saw that I’m looking at some, I guess this is a run here. Um, On a website, these men are wearing your cans, essentially. You’re as big backpacks. Right. And I guess they’re out there handing it out. Oh, it was called generation. You can.com for a while. That was a domain.

Shoba: That was the domain, because the word you can was fanatically taken. So we really, you know, the company was a Yukon company. The, what you can was phonetically taken, we now have the rights to it. Um, but um, we had to for launch with as generation, you can.

Andrew: What does it cost you to sponsor a big marathon

Shoba: Well range of sponsorships, right? Depending on what you, what category you, you, uh, your rat, um, you know, but I think you’ve got, uh, sponsorships all the way up to, uh, I’d say a half a million, uh, starting with anywhere at, uh, 50 K. So it’s the whole spread depending on the category, depending on what all you sign up for.

Andrew: And do you know, a few I know with an online ad, you can tell whether it pays off pretty easily. Can you tell that with the marathon? Can you tell that with one of these events?

Shoba: Um, you could, because you then see regional attraction, you see, uh, retailers buying within that region. You see engagement with clubs in that region. So you start seeing a lot of it’s much like geo-targeting on an, in the digital world, right? So just sponsoring a race in a particular geography, and you’re drawing a lot of people from that geography, you know, it’s kind of working.

Andrew: Do you come back? Are you spreadsheet oriented about it? I remember asking the founder or not the founder of Zappos, but Tony Shay the, his apples about whether he was getting enough of an ROI from his customer service. People spending an hour on the phone with someone. And he basically just blew me off.

He said, that’s not how we think we can’t measure it that way. And that’s not, that’s just not the way things work, but it always makes me uncomfortable to not be able to say, to connect the big expense to a big revenue. Do you try to connect it back in a spreadsheet and say, we spent this much money on that race.

We want to make sure that locally we’re seeing a big increase and that it has to come back to the same amount we spent or more.

Shoba: We do dispense, you know, when you’re going consciously saying it’s a big ticket item, you’re going to spend on it. You really want to see whether the trajectory of the return is going to be, uh, you know, three months, six months, you know, it’s, it, it depends on the kind of spend. So for a race sponsorship, it’s a month, typically a multi-year race sponsorship.

So you do want to see a return. Within a few years, you, but you, you build up that, right. You’re going with the purpose of building up that particular geography. Uh, but I would agree with the statement of Tony that it’s not always a measurable, you know, certain, certain programs can be measured, but certain programs are put out there for brand value. Hello, Stuart.

Andrew: second. I’ll go into my second sponsor. And then I want to come back and tell you what I’m finding. When I look at your traffic sources online, this is surprising. Right? Second sponsor is a company called HostGator. I use them to host my website. If you’re out there, you need a host for your website.

Just go to hostgator.com/mixergy. That’s how you get the lowest price available and great service, which they always make available again. Hostgator.com/mixergy. All right. Here’s what I see. I put you into SEMrush and I see you very little traffic on your site. It looks like you’re in the 19,000 visits a month, March, 2021.

That’s not that much. I would have expected you to be doing a lot of your business online, and I’m looking at your face as I say it. And it’s, it

Shoba: Oh, which day was that? Was it.

Andrew: All of March. I’m not seeing a ton of traffic. According to what I see here, SEMrush traffic journey starts largely with Google or direct actually by far direct as the most, then you got to, then you got Google duck, duck go.

It’s like you’re you’re, you’re not doing a lot of online marketing, right?

Shoba: Well, we are, we’re doing, we do podcasts. We do some, um, you know, we do a social media paid, paid social, uh, whether it’s Facebook campaigns, Google search ads. So we do them, but perhaps not, uh, we, we were experimenting on a variety of things right now to kind of then see what is, um, what are the places where we want to really bet, bet bigger.

Andrew: What’s been working for you.

Shoba: What guests have been very good for us. Sponsorship of podcasts have been good for us. Um, and influencers have been very good for us. Um, elite influences the sponsorships that we have done. They have been, uh, a good way for us to get the word out. So those are a few of the things that have worked for us.

Display ads have not worked for us brand is not yet well known. Right? I mean, so you yourself really, um, found out about us, um, more recently. So the brand is not something that’s got broad distribution. We’re not in the big retail stores. So, um, uh, however in that very close net of influences, uh, it’s got better traction, as I’ve

Andrew: like Instagrammers who are taking pictures of what they’re, who are taking pictures of their workouts. And then also talking about what they’re eating. That’s the thing.

Shoba: uh, yes. Amongst the elite folks. Yes. Mike’s the elite influences and I think we’re well known brand in, uh, running, especially, you know, we had 50 runners who were Olympic qualifiers in the Atlanta Olympic qualifier, uh, last year or the 300, we had 50 of them. So in the running circle we made, we’ve made some good inroads.

Andrew: So you started out wanting to help a broader group of people. It seems to me like you’re sort of moving into that. I was looking at your Instagram page and I saw that there was some kind of almond butter. I’m assuming that making food that regular people eat is, is your entry point into the average person’s life.

And that’s the direction that you’ve always wanted to go in. Am I right?

Shoba: Um, it’ll ultimately be the direction. We are still very much more a performance nutritional brand. We are for that active lifestyle consumer, um, who really is committed to staying fit. So we are not about. You know, um, the, the grocery shop, I was looking for the latest consumer food product. Um, we are really about delivering a benefit for people who really are committed to fitness and wellness.

Andrew: I work with my friends who hate carbs. You know what I wish I’d done. I wish, you know, the levels, um, continuous glucose monitor. I have that. I had it. I should have actually kept it in my arm while eating. You can to see what it does. Would it spike up my glucose?

Shoba: It wouldn’t in fact, we’re doing a, a very, um, uh, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re working closely with level levels, trying to give levels out to several of our athletes and our coaches and dieticians and getting them to really see what we have known for a very long time. How superstar. Keeps your blood glucose, very, very steady.

So, uh, you know, prior to levels and CGMs like these coming out, you really had to get your blood sugar, uh, determined by testing it, right by pick, by picking, uh, pricking your finger and testing your blood. So now that you’ve got CGMs and CGMs are going mainstream, they are helping us evangelize what we’ve been saying for too, for, for far too long, that the best way to manage your energy levels is to have.

Steady blood sugar, and you can provide for that.

Andrew: CGM continuous glucose monitor. I’m I need to go back and try levels again.

Shoba: You should, you should take it with you can and then take it with whatever other product, you know, fast-acting product or your cereal or whatever else you want to have

Andrew: Yeah. So

Shoba: see what

Andrew: uh, what I’m going to see and how it impacts my body. This is getting a little too like Andrew centric, but I think it’s, hopefully it’s interesting for the audience. If it’s not, they have my email address, Andrew. It makes her do, they should let me know. I want to understand how this works though.

One of the things that our past guests told me is runners do not lose weight. What happens is their body holds onto a lot of their weight. And because it feels like it’s going to be starved of nutrition. Am I right starved of food somehow? Am I right about that?

Shoba: Um, I’m confused with that statement a little bit, frankly.

Andrew: I’ve found that running is not a great way to lose weight. I do find that, um, Maybe not at the level that I do at long distance, going back to the glucose monitor when I put levels in, I did discover that two bagels a day is probably a problem for me. Yes, calories is, and that’s a two bagels to start my day.

That’s what, what I was doing. Calorie wise. It’s fine. If I use those calorie counting apps, it seems to say that it’s, it’s fine. But when I look at levels, I just see a huge dramatic spike. I don’t even, I didn’t even understand why that was a problem, but I just looked so awful. I didn’t want that. Right.

And so I stopped.

Shoba: Yeah, you don’t want that.

Andrew: Why not? Why don’t I want the glucose chart to spike up at all.

Shoba: Well, the human body is meat is designed to maintain blood sugar at a particular level. All right. That’s, what’s called you glycemia when you’re neither hyper nor hypo. You don’t want to be very high. You don’t want to be very low when you’re hypo, which is what was problem with John. I, you can get into epileptic shock.

Acoma when you’re hyper, the body is trying to bring it down and shunts that access to that sugar. Off, as I said, into, into the liver and over time, if that liver is full and you become, um, insulin sensitive or insulin resistant, all that excess sugar is going to really get deposited as fat. And that’s why there’s such a strong correlation between fast-acting.

Food eating foods that are fast acting and, uh, gaining weight. So when you’re taking on a bagel, you’re spiking your blood sugar, the body has to correct that the body is taking that excess blood sugar and shunting it away. If it’s black origin stores are all full, it’s going to deposit them as fat.

Andrew: Okay. And then when I run, I also notice a spike. Is that a problem? Long distance bike ride? I noticed with spike

Shoba: You notice a spike after eating something. Oh, without.

Andrew: will regardless. There’s high glucose levels. When I, when I run.

Shoba: Um, I don’t understand the physiology of that as to why you’re without eating anything in your running. You’ve got a high glucose level.

Andrew: It’ll happen after I do longer runs. Maybe I should check in with levels about that. I thought maybe that was a problem too, of my nutrition and maybe a problem of just running in general, but you don’t see that.

Shoba: Yeah, I don’t see that it’s the problem of nutrition, but I don’t see running in general causing a huge spike in blood sugar.

Andrew: All right. How do you spend your day as a leader of a company? What, where does most of your time go?

Shoba: Um, it’s, it’s really about. Looking at all aspects of the company every day. I mean, I’m looking at, you know, uh, it, it, it is empowering people to do what they need to do. Um, so I’m spending my time looking at what’s happening in marketing. What’s happening in finance, what’s happening in supply chain, what’s happening in, uh, in sales.

So it’s all aspects of that. And every day,

Andrew: looking at numbers as they come in.

Shoba: No, by talking to them, by talking to my, um, uh, functional heads and understanding what issues they’re running into. So especially in these pandemic times, right? I mean, you could have a huge supply chain issue one day. Uh, you could have, um, with our, with our kind of, uh, business, which was focused so much on sports.

All of our channels of selling were closed overnight. Uh, last March when, um, you know, when the Olympics were canceled, when NCAA was canceled and all of our pros, pro teams, boats for club closed, lifetime fitness, which was one of our biggest customers. All the gyms are closed. So it can be a sales issue one day that you’re trying to solve.

It can be a marketing issue that you’re trying to help out with. Could be a supply chain issue because right now, um, many of the businesses are struggling with supply chain issues because of overseas shipments coming in, whether it’s tubs and lids or whether it’s, um, uh, ingredients that you are dependent on.

Um, so a lot of these things are it’s it’s about fixing problems that need to be fixed for that day.

Andrew: And then what’s your management style? What, how do you guide your team?

Shoba: Um, I give them a vision of where we are headed. Uh, we very much use, um, uh, you know, you’re familiar with, um, um, you know, um, measuring everything that matters. Okay. Ours. Yeah. So we are, we are big proponents of OKR, so we try to set up. Um, okay. Ours at a, at a quarterly level and we monitor them on a regular basis.

So they’ve been very helpful for us. And as a team, we do end of the day wrap meetings where the functional heads get together and kind of like, just talk about the issues of the Bay. Um, so we do that and we also have a monthly touch base with all of the employees of the company to kind of share everyone’s, um, uh, to give everyone, especially in these times an opportunity to express themselves.

Andrew: To get them to actually, do you feel that they can talk openly about a problem that they’re having when they’re working remotely?

Shoba: Definitely. I think these community meetings have helped us all. Yeah. And our functional heads have been very, very much in touch. I think they’ve adapted now over time with these, um, Google Hangouts and zoom meetings to really be in touch with one another more often than we were when we were doing things in person.

Because as a, as a company, they’re very. Very dispersed. We have people in Massachusetts and Minneapolis and, um, Texas and, um, New Jersey. So we, we were disposed even if we are 15 people, but, uh, this setup of, uh, zoom and Google hangout has helped us a lot more.

Andrew: Yeah, you were always remote. You’re going to stay remote.

Shoba: Yes, our headquarters. She will always be there. There’ll be pick and pack and, you know, support at the headquarters level. But I think we’ve adapted ourselves to, to work in remote.

Andrew: Um, all right. When do you go to the broader audience? When do you go outside of the athletes that you’re focused on now?

Shoba: Well, we’ve been going to the broader audience, like I said to those gyms, right? Um, the gym with lifetime fitness as being one of our biggest clients over the last several years, we’ve we’ve started doing that. And we started going to, uh, that audience of consumers who want to stay fit to me. They are one step remote from that, uh, soccer mom who wants to feed her, uh, you know, her family.

Well, you know, have a family healthy food. So it’s. We are, we’ve already started making that move, but it’s within that realm of fitness, right.

Andrew: All right. My favorite thing is I’m going to give people advice if they, if they get this, my favorite of all your stuff, it’s the, uh, granola, right? It’s got chocolate in it. It’s got other things in it. I’m just going to give advice to you. An unsolicited advice to you and advice. My audience, anyone who has it should not, I don’t think you, she just had an open bag like that.

It’s too easy to go through the whole thing and that’s just not good for our body right before a run. That’s one product that I wish you’d put into smaller packets, just so I know how much I’m supposed to have. I’m telling you. I said, I stood there at the kitchen before a run. I just kept shoveling mouthfuls.

And then I put it in my plastic Ziploc bag, put in my run, running pants, and then I went for a long run with it. And it’s just too much. It’s too much. Unless you decide you’re going to make it into a

Shoba: All right. We’ll come out. We’ll come out with single cells. We’ll come out with single says

Andrew: Well, maybe,

Shoba: a good

Andrew: like a cup, like a measuring cup and just take one cup of it? How much am I supposed to have realistic one measuring cup worth?

Shoba: A measuring cup is good, especially if you’re going to have it like a, you know, a bowl with yogurt and granola topped, uh, or the energy mix stop. Yeah. I think I’ll go, uh, energy, uh, scoop would do, but like, I, like I was telling you though, don’t do it before a run or during a run. I would suggest that you could go our new product.

The edge is the right product for you for an on the go product and any of our powder shakes. Yeah.

Andrew: gel they had that you were saying before. Um, all right. The website for anyone who wants to go check it out is you can. Co you can is U C a N dot C O. And I want to thank two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website, right? Their host my site it’s called HostGator.

Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. And the second, if you have a team of people, go check out rippling. I am telling you do your research on them. Forget about what I said, go do your research on them, and you will see how great rippling is for paying your people, managing them and letting them just.

Just have a great experience. rippling.com/mixergy. If you want a demo right now, thanks so much for doing this interview. Chabot

Shoba: Thank you very much, Andrew. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks. Bye everyone.

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